Saturday, September 14, 2019

Paladins come up short at Virginia Tech

Furman's Dru Seabrook had 1.5 sacks Saturday in the Paladins'
24-17 loss at Virginia Tech. Photo courtesy of Furman
BLACKSBURG, Va. - For a game that was such a polar opposite from Furman's last one, the similarities were striking. Some of those striking similarities struck down the 13th-ranked Paladins' hopes of a victory Saturday at Virginia Tech.

For the second consecutive week, Furman:

  • Took a double-digit lead in the first half against an FBS opponent
  • Saw that lead evaporate quickly.
  • Had a controversial replay review go against it.
  • Lost by a touchdown.
A Furman offense that entered averaging more than 500 yards per game was held to 231 Saturday as the Hokies rallied, then held on for a 24-17 win before 52,314 fans at Lane Stadium. They held on after recovering a second onside kick by Furman with 1:49 left before running out the clock.

That second kick came after the Paladins' Ryan Miller recovered the first one, but that play went to the video review booth. The ball wasn't touched by a Paladin before traveling 10 yards and there was no flag on the play, but officials ruled that Furman's Dae'one Wilkins made a block before the ball went 10 yards. Typically, the only penalty that is called on a review with no flag on the play is targeting.

"I saw what I saw on the review and I don't agree with it, but nobody has any say so. It's just disappointing because we had all kind of other chances to win the football game," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "We just couldn't do enough on offense and I knew it was going to be tough.
"At the end of the day, we were plus-two (on turnovers) in the first half and minus-two in the second half. That's the difference in the game."

A week after putting up 526 yards of total offense in a 48-42 loss at Georgia State, the Paladins (1-2) had just 107 in the first half Saturday but took a 14-3 lead into halftime as Hokie fans booed their team into the locker room. Furman grabbed that lead by cashing in on its opportunities.

The Paladins trailed late in the first quarter when linebacker Braden Gilby - a redshirt freshman making his first career start - forced a fumble that Bryan Okeh fell on at the Tech 41. On the next play Devin Wynn popped a 20-yard run for Furman's first first down. On 4th-and-1 at the 12, Darren Grainger's hard count drew the Hokies offsides. Two plays later, Devin Abrams opened the second quarter by muscling his way into the end zone on a four-yard touchdown run.

After the teams exchanged punts, Travis Blackshear's interception set up Furman at the Tech 42. The Paladins converted three third downs, including a 3rd-and-7 play in which Grainger rolled right and had nothing but grass ahead of him. His 15-yard touchdown run helped push the lead to 14-3.

Furman missed a golden opportunity to take a bigger lead into halftime as it drove to midfield with less than a minute to play. However, a bullet from Grainger went off the hands of Avery Armstrong incomplete and the Paladins ran out the clock with a run on the final play of the half.

The Paladins got the ball to start the second half and got runs of six and 10 yards to start their drive, but it ended when Grainger was dropped for no gain on third-and-long. Just as Georgia State did last week, Virginia Tech (2-1) quickly marched down the field on its ensuing possession. After runs of 15 and 54 yards by Keshawn King to open the drive, it was capped when tight end James Mitchell's first career carry went for a three-yard touchdown.

On the next play, Devin Wynn was twisting for more yards when he lost Furman's first fumble of the season at the Paladins' 26. Four plays later, Ryan Willis hit Tre Turner on a two-yard touchdown run and the Hokies turned an 11-point deficit into a 17-14 lead in one minute and 48 seconds.

The score remained 17-14 until midway through the fourth quarter. Grainger had the rare opportunity Saturday of enough time to go deep, but threw into double coverage and suffered his first interception of the season. Five plays later, Turner took a jet sweep handoff down the right sideline and was ruled to have stayed in bounds all the way for a 29-yard touchdown. That score wasn't reviewed.

Furman answered with it's lone scoring drive. On 3rd-and-2 near midfield, Abrams broke free on a 48-yard run to the three-yard line. The Hokies' defense stiffened and Furman settled for a 22-yard field goal by Grayson Atkins to cut the lead to 24-17 with 1:49 left. That kick broke the school record for consecutive made field goals at 13.

Hendrix said officials told him they were reviewing to see if Wilkins made a block before the ball went 10 yards.

"That is the rule, but my whole thing is, 'if he hits us, are we trying to block him?' I wouldn't see it that way," Hendrix said. "That's two weeks in a row that we've had three of them. It's been kind of crazy because they've all been huge plays in the game, but we had a bunch of chances to win.
"I thought we'd be right there (with a chance to win). I wasn't surprised we were."

After recovering the second onside kick, Virginia Tech picked up a first down and was able to run out the clock. King had 119 yards on 12 carries to lead the Hokies, while Willis was 17-of-21 for 123 yards.

A week after throwing for 311 yards, Grainger was held to 63 yards on 8-of-15 passing as he faced constant pressure. Abrams had 72 yards on 10 carries while Wynn ran 13 times for 66 yards, to lead the Paladins.

After giving up 566 yards last week, Furman's defensive starting lineup was shaken up and the changes paid off. The Paladins limited Virginia Tech to 350 yards of total offense and officially had four sacks.

The forced fumble was one of Gilby's team-high 12 tackles. He also had a tackle-for-loss that should've been ruled a sack. Gilby finished with 12 tackles and a tackle-for-loss that should've been ruled a sack. Also making his first start was freshman Hugh Ryan, who had six tackles and a pass breakup. Meanwhile, reserve defensive end Dru Seabrook pushed his team-leading sack total to 3.5 this season with 1.5 Saturday.

"The defense played really well and kept us in the game," Hendrix said. "I knew we'd been close to playing good defense, but it just had not shown."

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